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Column: Objectifying groups reduces compassion

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The recent bombing tragedy at the Boston Marathon brings up the whole idea of how anyone can do this to innocent people.

Whether it is the Newtown shooting or other similar attacks, we get outraged, we get sorrowful, and we get grief-stricken, but we do not go to the root cause.

I am not talking about the particulars in any of these, but what is the broader issue that lets people do this to other people.

No, this is not about guns, it is about the way we think.

When I went into the Army in 1965, at the ramping up of the Vietnam War, I was told that I was going to kill.

The instructors even gave us names for those we were going to kill, derogatory terms intended to demean and dehumanize the victims.

At the time, I accepted this like all the other soldiers who were going through the training. Only later, much later, did I realize that this “objectifying” of the enemy is how we teach people to kill other people.

We humans do not like to kill other humans; but as soon as we can objectify them, it is much easier.

The explosives in Boston were set off by someone probably with an anger, grudge or ideological justification to kill a bunch of “Americans.”

Not real people, but the objectified version of real people. A bunch of Americans. And when we go to war as a nation, it is the same thing we do with our soldiers, but we justify it as the “enemy.” But it is the same objectification.

These are big examples, but we need to look into our own living and see how we all, in some form, do this every day. I remember the first time women became outraged at the notion of making females into objects. It was totally accurate but did not go nearly far enough.

Yes, men still do objectify women, and women do it to men, and whites do it to blacks, and blacks do it to whites, etc., etc. As soon as you think you know how someone is, then you name them, and they no longer are fully human.

They become the named object in your mind. You stop really seeing them in all their human complexity.

Look around you in your home, classroom, workplace, at dinner, at a social/religious meeting, and see how you have categorized and labeled certain others.

We even do it to our parents and our children. Of course, the vast majority of us will never kill these people we have objectified, but we set up a world where it is perfectly fine to create this mental definition that lessens the humanity of another.

Then, down that road we go, until someone gets angry enough, hateful enough or other emotional state, to act out and harm “them.”

And, to this angered person, it is not real people they kill, only a defined faceless group. This is the basis of all racism, sexism or religious hate. Those others, who are not like us, are a faceless group. And with that, the game is set up. We do feel the pain and sadness when we see the lives of the victims taken away, but we do not see our connection to it all.

There is an old Zen saying, “To name something/someone is the first step to killing it.” This objectifying can only change from within each of us.

Columbus retiree Tom Lane is the latest addition to our contributors for the weekly Community Column. He served as a consultant to a number of companies in his career. In recent years his has been a familiar name to readers of The Republic’s Letters to the Editor column. He can be reached at

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